Artist Statement


Surrogates and Association

I am interested in the human sense of seeing and visual memory, and based on that visual communication. I am high functioning autistic (HFA), faceblind (Prosopagnosia) and see categorically; I am also nearsighted (Myopia).

Looking at our surrounding it is being reflected through our eyes in our brain as images. It is not a reproduction of what we are looking at, but only a reflection of it; it looks the same, but it is not the same, an image is “only” an illusion of the physically present and tangible.
Because of this sensory function we are able to exchange images we have actually seen with surrogates we have artificially created ourselves.

Because it is impossible to recreate 100% of our surrounding, these images must be abstracted, and only a selection of aspects will be represented. Different choices are being made, which elements will be recreated and which will be eliminated. The ability to mentally create a reflection of reality, recreate some of it in form of a man-made image and then recognize this abstracted version has led to the ability to read and write.

With these surrogates we communicate, bridging time and place and sharing information, that makes it possible to re/-visit situations that lie in the past, future, or happen at a different location, inclusive those that did never happen at all, but that were intentionally or subconsciously invented.

I am interested in lens-based images used within visual communication, in particular within specific social groups, as a signal of affiliation and increasingly within social media platforms.

I am further interested in the element of evidence added to an image by a camera, making us believe the depicted image is a fact, even if or rather because images created by technically advanced cameras differ from human vision. Although they contradict our own physical experience, we override our own senses and in case of doubt believe the camera produces images more true to reality, not only is questions of physicality but also in the question “how does something look like?”

I am working exclusively with self-made puppets* (also surrogates) as models; I am interested in the interchangeability between living models and puppets in lens-based images. The difference between a living person and a puppet is quite large, but the difference between a photograph of a living model and the photograph of a puppet of a person is much smaller, if not insignificant. I am interested in this phenomenon.

[*A puppet as opposed to a doll is a performing object.]

“I am interested only in the unknown and I work for my own astonishment.” (Roberto Matta)

Josiane Keller - Viola on the beach 4

Josiane Keller “Viola on the beach 4” (2016)


人形 共和国   –  Puppet Republic

What is a man-made image, and why are we creating it?

Humans are one of the few animals with the ability to recognize three dimensional objects depicted in two dimensional images such as photographs, despite the abstraction of scale, color and dimension. For this reason we use 2D images and photographs as media to communicate to each other. By now, in the 21st century, many people have informed their extensive visual memory to a great extent through lens-based images instead of seeing the original. We are able to recognize such images not only on a cognitive but also on an emotional level, to the extent that photographs can trigger emotional reactions in the viewer that otherwise would be only appropriate in juxtaposition with the original, which is linked to our memory, consequently this is one purpose photographs are being created for. In this sense a photograph is a form of substitute for or “puppet” of what it depicts.

Josiane Keller - Viola's bed with Fabienne's photo

Josiane Keller “Viola’s bed with Fabienne’s photo” (2016)

In my work I use self-made puppets as stand-ins for mostly people, but also animals or buildings depicted in photographs and films. I am fascinated by the interchangeability of puppets and their originals in lens based images. I explain this with the fact that also a lens-based image (still photo or film) is a stand-in for or a ‘reflection’ of what it depicts. A reflection of a reflection seems similar enough to a reflection of an original to be taken by the human mind as (almost) identical; both one can be used to (re-)narrate a situation of some sort, and the human mind is able to read it. However, not being the same as the original, yet being able to be exchanged with it, make both a puppet as well as a photograph of a puppet posing as a real person a very surreal thing.

Homunculi and Mirror

There are similar categories of human-shaped figurines that have different purposes with somewhat overlapping borders: A: static statues or poppets, that are created as a focal point for meditative purposes, like religious statuettes or used as stand-ins in rituals, as such being talked to, prayed and sacrificed to or handled as a stand-in for the represented personality; B: dolls with limited mobility used as toys by children that seemingly come to life in the child’s imagination by interacting with them and handling them such as dressing/undressing, putting to bed etc. C: Asian ball-jointed dolls (“ABJD”), seemingly a subcategory of toy-dolls (C) for adult collectors, but perhaps originally linked to religious doll rituals used in protection rites (A), since Japanese people think through playing with dolls we communicate with the invisible world; finally (D): moveable puppets that are performing objects physically manipulated by the puppeteer to perform for an audience.

Out of these categories I am working with puppets, performing objects, but instead of manipulating them directly on stage I am using them to “perform” in lens-based images set up in walkable installations, or shown as live slide-shows or films.

The puppets are either entirely or to the greatest extent made from clay. My original training is pottery and I feel intimately connected to this material, which symbolizes the qualities of a human being. The firing process changes the physical qualities of the clay, the kiln functions as an athanor, an alchemical furnace, symbolizing a womb giving birth.

My first figurines used to be static, made entirely from ceramic, features, hair or clothes painted on with iron oxides. They were created as stand-ins for individual actually living people and I avoided showing details that would make it obvious that they were figures. My newer figures have rudimentary joints that allow different poses, and hair and clothes are made from other materials than clay. This makes it much more obvious that these are man-made figures instead of living creatures. Despite this development to look less life-like it seems the audience is reacting emotionally stronger to these new puppets.

I am contemplating the question: which one is more sur-real? A duplicate of nature as exact as a clone (“Dolly the sheep”, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1996 – 2003) or rather a puppet so abstracted that it is in every aspect completely different from the original (the tree trunk as an infant in Jan Švankmajer’s “Otesánek”, 2000)which seems to be the most typical effect of the subconscious: mentally substituting one thing for another, for various reasons.

I am investigating to what extent the human perception is willing to bridge abstraction in order to identify its surrounding and match it with learned information in order to re-/gain orientation.

Czech surrealist Jan Švankmajer states, he is using animation as a sort of “NEW ALCHEMY”. Likewise I am using photography and animation to bring the puppets, originally life-less objects, seemingly to life. Over time working with this type of projects I have understood that a lens-based picture of a puppet in which the puppet is being used as a surrogate takes on the effect of a mirror, providing a form of reflection of humanity, somehow more than a 3 dimensional puppet alone or a photograph of a living person would do this. In this sense the camera also takes on the function of a second athanor (alchemical furnace), like the pottery kiln, transforming the essence of a thing.

Josiane Keller - little boy holding his hands in front of his eyes

Josiane Keller “little boy holding his hands in front of his eyes” (2017)


I am creating all my puppets myself not for the purpose of producing three dimensional objects, but for the purpose of using them in lens-based images. I place much more thought on creating a life-like image than creating a life-like puppet, in fact it appears to me the most like-life images can be created with a more abstracted puppet as opposed to a seemingly more realistic one.

Like a cinematographer I use the camera and the images created through it to direct the audience’s view on which part of the puppet they will see and how it will appear to them.

As opposed to the perfection a camera typically offers I try to create images closer to the actual human vision thus mimicking the natural human gaze which creates the illusion the viewer was actively participating from within the scene and interacting with the characters; further I try to delete the awareness of the difference in scale between human audience and depicted small-scale puppets.

I am further using my puppet-based images to investigate the meaning that cameras bring to images we are using to communicate. Modern cameras, being machines and technically superior to the human eye, seem to create “evidence”. Although these may be facts true to physics, they are not true to the actual human visual experience /visual memory, yet the visual information of lens-based images seems preferable, even in the question “how things look like”

In photography there are now portfolio reviews popular in which we can get advice on how to “improve” our images. Yet a camera is supposed to record unbiased facts of exactly the reality that is in front of it at the time the shutter is being released. Out of a series of similar pictures, for instance on contact sheets, some are being preferred, as “good pictures”.

Despite this just any snap shot is not considered a “good picture and the photographer is expected to make conscious choices to decide when a “good” picture is in front of him, either by chance or staged, and only this choice-making qualifies him/her as an artist.

Yet, as opposed to i.e. in painting the photographer seems not to be expected to find a new, original, perhaps even shocking way of depicting images in a way never seen before. Instead the opposite seems to be the case: as opposed to any other artist it seems to me, the best photographers are those who are able to recreate images that are very similar to those that have been taken by numerous photographers in the past, as if in the case of photography we do not wish for new insights but instead affirmation of what we already learned before.

In photo competitions there are usually a few categories which the photographer has to choose and the winning images seem very typical and repetitive, even so if the image is not staged but apparently taken for the very first time at this particular moment and location by a person who has never visited this place or encountered this situation before.

This lead me to the question: is it even possible with a conscious mind to create an original image that one has never been seen before, or are we rather subconsciously drawn to a certain image that pre-exited in our visual memory and we press the shutter-release at the moment we recognize it, thus over and over recreating it?

Photographs also have a fetish position. Since they function as icons for what they depict we display images of loved ones, but also in the same way of admired and desired strangers, such as celebrities or rock stars, in our most private rooms (preferably above our beds). Even though we do not know the depicted people personally through these lens-based images we are able to imagine an affiliation with them, even if the depicted celebrity likewise only publishes an invented façade life style very different from his/her private persona.

The internet and social media have added to this phenomenon. We believe that cameras deliver proof of the depicted scene being real and further the photographer was participating in it, because he must have been there to take the picture. This has flipped into a life-style that we strive to document desirable moments in our life by camera and publish these images on social media platforms to be acknowledged by a maximum amount of witnesses.
However it is often overlooked that during the actual moment when the photograph was taken, the photographer can’t possibly be participating in the scene, because s/he is taking on the role of the observer, concentrating on taking the picture.

I am interested in photographs as a means of visual communication. They can’t ever be neutral; instead they are always a multiple statement that shows:

1; what or who is depicted in the picture?

2; who took it and why?

3; to whom will s/he show it, inclusive maybe only to the photographer him/herself or to the public, possibly well aware of the indirect advertising effect, and the reason behind either decision;

4; who is looking at it and why? Who will obtain it to look at it, possibly more than once, possibly frequently?


Time Machines, the 4th+ Dimension and NOW

This work of lens-based puppet images, more so than any other media I have worked in before, seems to have a particularly strong emotional effect on the audience, triggering stronger associations than for instance paintings, photography or sculpture. Some people even acted possessive over this work, as if it was their own, not created by someone else. Possibly the reason for that is the depicted puppets as well as the lens-based images take in their function of place-holders represents the viewer him-/herself, triggering his/her personal memories, and through this mental interaction the images become his/her own.

The difference between a 3dimensional object and a lens-based 2dimensional image of a 3dimensional object is TIME. The 3dimensional object exists in the presence, whilst the photographic image of it may also as such exist in the presence, but shows a recorded version of the object, marking a moment that has already passed and at the same time through looking at it connecting with this past. A live camera such as surveillance camera or videotelephony facilitates looking at a scene that exists at the same time but at a different location.

For these reasons lens-based images work as time machines, so do memories. We can travel in time and place by imagination as long as we remember, but when we lose our memories we are disconnected from that ability.

“Nothing sorts out memories from ordinary moments. It is only later that they claim remembrance, when they show their scars.”

(Chris Marker)

Presentation and Audience

This work is not object-based but instead process-based; at least as long as this process is continuing there is no actual completion of it, possibly in the case I will stop working on the project it would be uncompleted.

Also, there is no “art work” separated from the audience that looks at it from an opposing side.

The images are only one part of the work and the audience is forming another necessary part of it. For this reason I display my work in installations, books or live slide-shows or film screenings, where the borders between art and audience are less defined.

I have been showing my work at physical performances and am currently looking for live performers to collaborate with.
Please check back for updates.


Josiane Keller - Chiaki after the abortion

Josiane Keller “Chiaki after the abortion” (2016)



“Quotenangst ist Gift” (Sigi Zimmerschied)

As any artist I am depended on promotion and I am glad if you find my work worthy to review it; you are welcome to write whatever you like, but please stick to basic journalistic ethic, as it applies just as much to good art journalism.

If you write a review of a show of mine you can of course write whatever you like (and I do hope you like it). If you want to feature my work without having seen a specific show it would be possibly easier if you let me know your intentions, then I can send you actual material. If you notify me of your review I can say ‘thank you!’ and promote your article on my own platforms, otherwise I may not even know that your review about me is out there.

If you can at all help yourself please do not scrape content from my website or other places and construct an imaginary interview from it that never took place, complete with added quotation marks. This makes me lose faith in THE ROLLING STONE INTERVIEWS, among other potentially interesting things.
If you like to write your piece in interview form we should talk in one form or another.

This work is my research; it is not object-based or created in order to reach a predestined goal of any sort, other than the research itself, and “objects” occurring through it are only a side product of the work. As in scientific research the answers to my questions are not know upfront, so I can’t amend or revise the process in order to change direction towards a specific result. I can’t make any compromises with my work, for that reason it is not suited as mass entertainment or for achieving maximum profit.

This website functions as a sketch-book, production diary, and online gallery and is being updated regularly. Due to the large output older, no longer or no longer relevant material is being deleted from this site. If you are searching for content no longer posted, please get in touch and I can send you archived material.
Thank you very much for your interest, please contact me should you have any questions, comments, or just want to say “hi”.


Josiane Keller, Jan. 2018

All work I create, images as well as texts are my own and copyrighted unless labeled otherwise and may not be reproduced or republished without my prior permission in writing.